12 August 2022

52 for '22: The Hours

MovieThe Hours (2002)
Method: HBOMax

Read on for how I feel about this nose. And note
 that this picture doesn't change my feelings.

Why Did I watch this?

You may have noticed that this series is strongly composed of films from the mid-2000s that no one seems to talk about much anymore. This for a few reasons - the 2000s were when I really started to pay attention to movies, so many of these films caught my eye. However, I may have missed a lot in theaters and since streaming or Redbox or Netflix DVDs weren't really a huge thing (or at least my priority), I never caught them. Suuuuure I could have gone to Blockbuster but whatever. It's not like I wasn't watching anything. I saw Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) plenty of times.

But it's movies like The Hours that make this series worth watching. It came out, it was a big deal, culturally notable, but not really the kind of franchise movie that made a long-lasting impact. It was on HBOMax's leaving soon, and I was thinking about how the amount of female-led films in 2022 I've watched is pretty paltry, so boom! Watched.

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew about Nicole Kidman's nose. Much more on that later. I've never read Mrs. Dalloway, but I'm actually somewhat aware of its deal after reading a literature book this year. I knew it was separated by three different time periods, I always thought it was like, one was the author, one was a woman reading it, and the other was the person in the story. That's...sort of true, but it's more nuanced. Like, they're all in the same reality. But I knew it was critically lauded and starred three of the greatest actresses of all time.

How Was It?

It's pretty good. It lost me a bit about halfway through but then the ending hits home really hard. There is a lot to talk about here. First of all, I thought I was getting into a women's story, and I was, but also, this film was written by a dude based off a book written by a dude and directed, produced, edited, and shot by dudes. Did anyone think that was a little weird?

The film is far from male gaze or anything, and the only two straight white characters in the movie are basically useless husbands, so I'm not saying it's terrible. It does just feel weird. Or maybe it just feels very 2002. I don't think they'd do that with dudes today. I'm curious to get into the framing a little bit, but let's start with the director.

Stephen Daldry did like, Billy Elliot (2000), The Reader (2008), and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011). That's the filmography of...a director. That's it. Just like a director who makes good, interesting dramas, none of which really stand out as anything visionary or game changing. All fine, but like, just fine. This movie's direction is just that. It feels like any drama, pretty static, no real bold color choices. It kind of exists and is competent but it's nothing really distinctive. Same with Philip Glass' score. It fits everything that's going on, but we're not advancing the art form.

And maybe he does know what he's doing because that actually lets the acting shine. It's a lot of fun to see young Toni Collette, Claire Danes, John C. Reilly, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janey, and Margo Martindale show up in bit parts. They're all as good as you'd expect them to be. Janey does have an Academy Award, she deserves more. She can do anything. Daniels is on the other end, he doesn't get enough credit for coming out with Dumb & Dumber (1994) and Speed (1994) in the same year. Jim Carrey wasn't doing that. Character actor Margo Martindale is brief but strong and John C. Reilly plays a great clueless husband.

Ed Harris has a bigger role as a tortured AIDS-stricken author, and one of the films' better twists is realizing his backstory (SPOILERS) as he's the connective tissue between two of the interlocking stories. He's angsty but shows us the reason behind the crazy. And that's ultimately his literal downfall (TOO SOON). It shows the strength of this cast that both him and Kidman were nominated by the Academy, and Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep were also nominated....for different movies!

The film follows three different time periods. In 2001, Meryl Streep is trying to plan a party for her gay AIDS-stricken friend, Ed Harris, and he's being a difficult tortured author, but also Streep is trying way too hard to throw him a party that he doesn't want. They're both kind of jerks here. This is some of the film's meatiest scenes, particularly when Streep goes toe to toe with Jeff Daniels, who plays an old jilted lover of Ed Harris', in town to celebrate. We simultaneously get the biggest window into what she's thinking, but her defense mechanism is constant business and meddling instead of sitting and crying. It's a deep role, but they all are here.

In 1951 Julianne Moore is a bored housewife in LA who is clearly suffering from clinical depression and wants to kill herself after reading Mrs. Dalloway (it can't be THAT bad). No, I kid. It's interesting to watch this film in an age where we are more aware of mental health issues. There's nothing that really sets her off, and I was waiting for the husband John C. Reilly to show how awful he was, but none of that ever actually happens. It's more difficult when there's no culprit, and I give the film credit for its restraint. Because that's how it actually is in the world. There's no one to blame but our brains.

John C. Reilly is oblivious, though, to an almost laughable extent. His wife is sobbing in the bathroom because of her suicidal ideation and complete discontentment with her life, but he's just blathering on about how great his birthday cake was. It's shockingly real. The 50's thing is a little on the nose, and I kind of wish films and TV wouldn't resort to the "well, she's probably just a lesbian!" trope (see also, the otherwise phenomenal Minx). It always takes me out of it a bit. Although all three characters here flirt with lesbianism to some extent, and it's hinted that that repression could be a cause of her depression. But the film never really becomes about that, so it's unclear where they stand. The Julianne Moore scenes have the least propulsion and purpose, but they might actually be the most internally dynamic and insane. It's a tough line to walk, and kudos to Moore for letting us in without letting us in.

Finally, we have Nicole Kidman. She did win an Academy Award for this performance and she deserves it. Although, let's get real, it was all the nose. I may be in the minority here, but I always thought it somehow made Nicole Kidman way hotter. It really, really does it for me. And that's weird because there is no reason at all to sexualize this movie and that says way more about my own primal dumb male horniness than anything they were presenting. But it works.

We only get hints about her mental state until she unleashes a little more towards the end, but she's similar to Moore in that she feels confined, misunderstood, and although she protests it, likely has some form of mental illness to the point of suicide. She ends up following through with it. There's a lot to be said here for different forms of repression and husband manipulation, although the intentions presented here seem largely honorable. They just really don't know how to even approach any of their wives' mental crises.

The acting and drama here are top notch. The structure is also fascinating, limiting itself to a single day from three distinct time periods, with only one character who crosses over into more than one (okay, fine, technically two, but we don't know that for much of the film). It's linked more by theme, and sure, the literal book tying everyone together, but it's remarkably easy to follow considering there is no change in lighting, camera style, or any other signifier besides actors. It almost feels like a play, though - constrained sets and a limited cast invite us in.

Something here feels hollow. Maybe it is how it still kind of treats mental health issues with a ten foot pole. Or maybe it's just the really flat direction and lifelessness to individual scenes. Hell, it's probably just too domestic for me. I want to see this remade by George Miller on a War Rig. I'm hopeless. I did enjoy this, though, and I'm curious what women think. Because it seemed to exist exclusively from the female perspective but told through a male lens.

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